Yoga for athletes

Mar 12, 2018 | News

You’re putting in the miles on the road and in the pool, but hopping on the mat could give you the edge you need come race day. We discover three yoga practices that can help improve your performance by developing strength and flexibility in body and mind

Extended puppy posture
As the name suggests, this is the little sister to the fully grown downward-facing dog but still packs a punch, helping to calm the mind, stretch the spine and open up the shoulders. Warm up by doing a few cat-cow flexions and extensions.

  1. Come to all fours, wrists directly beneath shoulders and knees beneath hips.
  2. Drop the elbows where the hands are and place the forearms on the ground, fingers facing towards the top of the mat.
  3. Lift the tailbone and gently begin to sink the chest towards the mat – you may need to inch your knees backwards or the arms forward slightly to make sure the hips remain over the knees and the arms straight.
  4. The aim is to get the forehead on the floor, arms extended, shoulders relaxed – press the tops of the feet firmly into the mat for stability.
  5. Stay here for three to five full cycles of breath.
  6. Push back to child’s pose.

Low lunge
You get plenty of bang for your buck with this excellent all-rounder, which targets the groin, psoas, quads and chest.

  1. From all fours, draw the right foot forward and place in between your hands, seeing that the right knee is aligned over the ankle.
  2. Curl the left toes under and gently inch the left knee back a little, until you can feel a stretch in the left thigh.
  3. On an inhale, lift the torso up and bring the hands to the right thigh, gently drawing the chest up and tailbone down.
  4. Stay here for a moment then, on your next inhale, activate your core by drawing your belly button towards your spine and sweep the arms up, elbows next to the ears, palms facing each other, fingers towards the sky.
  5. Stay here for three to five cycles of breath, drawing the shoulders away from the ears and taking the gaze towards the sky (be careful not to crank the neck).
  6. Come out of the pose by placing the hands back down on the mat and stepping the right knee back into all fours position.
  7. Repeat on the left side.

“The mental benefits that yoga offers—learning to stay present, managing stressful situations with the breath, not being tied to the outcome—are invaluable to [professionals],” says Yoga Journal. Nadi shodhana pranayama – or alternate nostril breathing – is a timeworn technique that can help lower the heart rate, reduce stress and anxiety, and focus the mind. Try the following practice before a race.

  1. Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position and close the eyes
  2. Inhale fully and exhale deeply
  3. Raise the right hand and gently close the right nostril with your thumb
  4. Inhale fully into the left nostril for a count of four
  5. Gently close the left nostril with your fourth finger, release the right nostril and exhale for a count of four
  6. Keep the left nostril closed and inhale for a count of four
  7. Close the right nostril with your thumb, release the left nostril and exhale for a count of four
  8. This completes one cycle
  9. Repeat the cycle a minimum of five times

Please note: This article is only intended as a guide and we would always recommend that you visit your GP, physiotherapist, yoga instructor or movement assessor to receive targeted advice and exercises.